Cyclones Youth Hockey Association president Mark Plantery beams about the Geneva-based organization’s steady growth. Its home base, Fox Valley Ice Arena, was recently well-populated for a Cyclones summer skills camp, and the trend will only continue when the season opens this fall.
Plantery, a Geneva resident, acknowledges things weren’t always this booming. It’s a cyclical process, but the Cyclones certainly are on the uptick.
Catching up with Kane County Chronicle sports reporter Kevin Druley, Plantery spoke about the Cyclones, hockey’s growth in the region and his time as a defenseman for the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets in the early 1980s.
Here’s an edited transcript of their conversation in the latest edition of the Weekend Chit-chat.
What are your connections to the pro prospects who’ve been out for the skills camp?
[Cyclones program director Pete Rutili] works for an advisory group [Acme World Sports], and all these [prospects] are basically in the group. Whenever we have these camps in the summer, they have a lot of downtime and they live in the area, so they come out and they give their time, which is nice. Because again, these kids really, really appreciate it. Just to see the looks on their faces with the autographs. And if ever they’re fortunate enough to make it to the NHL, they’ll never forget that night that they met them at Fox Valley. So it’s good, it’s good.
It’s been busting here between you guys, the men’s leagues and everything. How do some of these families come to hockey, in your experience?
Obviously, the growth in the game recently in the Chicago area, a lot of that has to do with the success of the Blackhawks. They can see these guys on TV, you know. They’ve had success. They’ve won Stanley Cups. The kids go to their parents, ‘Hey, dad. I want to play hockey.’ Because at that age, they’re trying different things. They’re trying soccer, they’re trying football, they’re trying baseball. So we see a lot of new families to the game, who their parents really don’t know a lot about hockey. It’s just with the child wanting to play hockey. So we get a lot of questions from parents that really don’t know how things work. What’s the progression model for hockey? How’s my kid get from A to Z? The amazing thing is, once they start playing, the kid gets hooked, the parent gets hooked, you know. It’s a great game to watch. Very exciting and fast. The kids love it because of the speed. And they form friendships immediately. A lot of it’s because they’re in this dressing room, in a confined space. They get to know their teammates, you know. Their parents get to know each other. It doesn’t take long for them to fall in love with the game and have this passion for the game.
And as you say, it’s only growing.
In the next five to 10 years, there are going to be a lot of good hockey players coming out of Chicago, you know, because there’s so many new kids playing. The demand for ice is at all-time ads. So there’ll be a lot of good players coming out of this area.
Which means a demand for these kinds of camps, right?
We run these camps in the summer for a couple of reasons. One, it’s cost-effective, you know. A lot of the camps, like the university camps, they’re expensive. This is a cost-effective camp. It also gives an opportunity for the coaches to connect and reconnect with our players. It also … is an opportunity for players coming from outside our club that want to try our club and see what we’re about to have conversations with coaches, the hockey director, myself. It serves a lot of purposes. It’s amazing the number of people that come here. The building’s a great facility. The environment’s good here. … The hockey community is really a small community, and word travels real quick. And we’re enjoying a lot of success now, and people hear about that. … We’ll probably have close to 500 members this fall, which is an all-time record for us. Mites all the way up to midgets.
Which communities are you drawing from most?
We’re here to service the community. We’re a community-based club. Most of our kids come from within 15 miles of the rink. We just try to have a program, a different program for every skill level. From beginner to the most advanced in skill.
Did it do your heart good when the Jets returned to Winnipeg [for the 2011-12 season]?
Yeah, it did. It did. It’s a great hockey town, but they just didn’t have the money. … Before, all the big-market teams, they got the free agents. The small-market teams couldn’t get free agents. And then they just didn’t have the fans. There’s only 600,000 people in Winnipeg, so that means, you know, you’ve got to charge 500 bucks a ticket, and you just couldn’t do it. So [the salary cap] helped get these small-market teams back in the picture, and it became more competitive. But, yeah, it’s great for the town and great for Winnipeg.